Just Tell Them About Jesus

Several years ago we made a trip to North Carolina for the wedding of our son in the faith. We rented a car and my husband was excited to find it had built-in GPS. I, however, was not as thrilled. I didn’t trust that thing. Now I depend on mine like a man depends on oxygen, but this was my first personal encounter with one. Fearing it would fail us, I printed out turn-by-turn directions from MapQuest as a “back-up.” All was fine until we got into Tennessee. My directions wanted to take us one way and the GPS wanted to go another. I expressed my concerns forcefully and my husband reluctantly followed my directions. Big mistake. Instead of bypassing Chattanooga, we ended up going right through it and adding time to our trip we could have avoided. Hubby stopped for gas outside of the city and threw my printed directions away. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Do not attempt to use MapQuest to second-guess the GPS. Frustration will follow.

Including in our faith life. Paul confronted the church in Galatia saying, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1). Someone had come to these believers and preached “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” causing confusion and “perverting the gospel of Christ” (1:7). Paul’s gospel was simple: Christ was crucified to redeem man from sin and death. He alone gives life to all who believe in Him. The infiltrators were insisting that salvation required adherence to the Mosaic law of circumcision. Paul said, “No!” These are “human commands and teachings that are destined to fail” (Col 2:21-22).

The current version of Christianity tells us we have to say all the right things, think only positive, affirming thoughts, keep a smile on our face, have perfectly behaved kids, and know all the correct church lingo to “prove” our place in God’s people. It’s time to stop. Stop all the rules and expectations and get back to the sweet simplicity of the gospel of Christ Jesus who gave His life to set us free – nothing more and nothing less. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to save. There is nothing you or I can add to make it better.

I’m convinced that the world refuses to listen to the church today because we’re still all about the “dos and don’ts.” But they will listen to the gospel. Just give them Jesus, Beloved. That’s all the world needs.

So Help Me God

*Steel-toed boot warning.

Court scenes in movies, television, and books generally show witnesses and defendants swearing to tell the truth with their right hand on a Bible. The practice of swearing an oath goes back to antiquity. In twelfth-century England the practice of swearing on the Word and name of God to declare one’s truthfulness became law. The custom came over with the pilgrims but was never made law as it was one of the many reasons they left the oppressive religious rule of England.
In the day when the Bible was considered sacred text and God was revered, the practice of swearing an oath “on the Bible” was the norm. That is no longer the case and the courts have determined that a witness could simply “affirm” to be honest. But putting one’s hand on the Bible has never been a guarantee of truthfulness, has it? People swore on the Bible and still lied. Even claiming to be a Christian these days doesn’t mean a person will be godly. So what good is the Bible anyway? And who needs it if it can’t make you a better person?
Here’s the ugly truth: we often use the Bible to comment on the ungodliness in our culture and to point out sin in the world. But remember, the Bible was written to the people of God, not to the world. The Old Testament was written to the Israelites and the New Testament is written to the church. Who needs the Bible? I do. You do. The Pastor and the deacons and every member of the Church. Every person who claims the name of Jesus Christ. Because God is speaking to His people. God is calling the church back to Himself. He is telling His people to stop living in sin and repent. He is drawing those who claim the name of Christ into holy living. We can’t hold the unsaved world to biblical standards not following. We can’t rant about homosexual marriage when the divorce rate in the church is the same as outside the church. We can’t judge unwed mothers when pornography addiction is rampant in the church. We can’t demand righteousness we don’t have ourselves. Don’t read the Bible to convict the culture, read it to convict your own heart. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household . . .” (I Peter 4:17).

How to Calm a Restless Life

I almost did it. I almost gave you a devotional with a verse taken out of context. I’ve taught the importance of context, context, context for years and I was about to break the rule. Let me explain. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse, plucked out of the surrounding passage, sits nicely on a platter of “pray and believe and you will receive.” But wait. What is that “but” all about?

James was writing to encourage Jewish believers who were under great oppression and persecution for their faith in Christ. He said their trials were God’s tools to make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (v. 4). Then he adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Put all the pieces together and James is saying that wisdom is the mark of a mature, complete Christian and that God will give wisdom to anyone who asks.

But there’s the “but” and that’s where verse 6 above comes in. By now you know that believing = obedience. The wisdom God gives is not just a head full of theology, it is practical action He expects you to take. God doesn’t speak just to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed. The opposite of believing is doubt, so the corollary to our equation is doubt = disobedience. “Doubt” means to make a judgment and thus to hesitate. When we doubt God’s Word, when we hesitate to obey we are judging His wisdom – or more to the point, judging Him – and deciding to reject His Word – and His authority. Hesitance is disobedience.

James calls that being “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8 ). A double-minded mind is a divided mind – a mind with two opposite opinions. A double-minded heart is a divided heart – a heart with two opposite affections. Being unstable means being inconsistent – acting first one way and then another. It’s a restless life. It’s no wonder the person who doubts God’s wisdom is “blown and tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.” 

Beloved, if you’ve been tossed around by life lately, maybe it’s time to take God’s Word – all of God’s Word – to heart. Obedience is a sturdy foundation.

Why I would rather study Jesus than Algebra

Do you know who Mahommed ben Musa al-Jhwarizmi is?  He is the person responsible for creating algebra.  If heaven is truly heaven, he won’t be there. In case you didn’t know, I am not a fan of math in any form but I absolutely hate algebra. For the past 9 years, I have been a Theology student studying the Bible.  I love learning, but I bawled my way through a year of algebra. There is no mention of algebra, quadratic equations, factoring, Venn nor Euler diagrams, square roots, linear equations, exponents, polynomials, or rectangular coordinates in the Scriptures. I do not need to learn about angles – I needed to learn about angels. By the grace of God and the patient tutoring of Julia Brown, I passed college algebra with an A. I’m still stunned by that statement.

It turns out that I am more drawn to the purpose of learning than the facts of learning. In other words, the “Why” is what’s important to me. The reason I hated algebra was because I couldn’t find any purpose for it. When I asked Julia, “Why do I have to learn this stuff?” The answer was always, “So you can do higher algebra.” So . . I am slogging through something I hate just so I can do more of it? No thanks! If I know the “why” I can press on. Words have that kind of purpose for me. So does living for Jesus Christ.

The “why” of being a Christian, of following Jesus, of praying and studying the Bible and teaching and witnessing and proclaiming is the force that makes me get out of bed every morning. The “why” is the reality of eternity and of the love of God and the power of transformation and the hope that comes through faith in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He is the “why.” He is the purpose – the eternal purpose of my life and all creation. We invest ourselves in a lot of things. But what has eternal significance? People. Truth. Love. Jesus. The “why” is because these are all that will matter in the end.

Footprints

I came across “The Footprints” poem the other day. You know the one about the person who dreamed of seeing two sets of footprints in the sand – one was their own and the other belonged to Jesus. At certain points, the second set of footprints disappeared and the dreamer was dismayed that Jesus would abandon them at the hardest points in their life. The Lord assured them that He would never leave them, especially during trials and testing. He said, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” That is a beautiful and encouraging image and expresses the heart of our Savior in our times of suffering.

Later, as I was studying 1 John I read this: “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). A different thought came to mind.  What if, when I questioned Jesus about that single set of footprints in the sand, He said, “That is when you followed me so closely that you stepped right into My footprints.” Oh! What a commendation that would be! That’s the goal of the Christian life, to emulate Christ in every way. To walk as He walked. To speak as He spoke. To give as He gave. To love as He loved. To be holy as He is holy. The first believers were called “Followers of The Way” until were dubbed “Christians” meaning “little Christs.” Not just because they claimed allegiance to Him but because they patterned their lives after Him.

I’m sure you know Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Have you ever wondered what His purpose is? It’s right in the next verse, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). To be “little Christs” in our generation, walking in His very footsteps so that there’s nothing of us left behind –  only Jesus. That’s my desire, especially as I see my granddaughter following me everywhere I go.

How do we do that? How do we “walk as Jesus did?” By keeping our eyes fixed on Him. By knowing Him through His Word. By living according to His Spirit (Rom 8:5-16). One footfall at a time. Beloved, what do your footprints say about your life?

Hebrews: The Disgrace of being a Christian

I became a Christian at nine years of age. I still remember sitting in the pew after I was baptized and feeling the water dripping from my hair and down my back. I remember standing in front of the church and receiving “the right hand of Christian fellowship.” One of my teachers hugged me in class on Monday and congratulated me on my decision for Christ. But for first-century believers, being a Christian was vastly different.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). For a Jew to make a public profession of faith in Jesus was, at best, to open yourself to public ridicule and often worse. Many lost their employment or the community would cease doing business with them. Sons were disowned by their fathers and wives faced severe repercussions from their husbands, including beatings. They were stripped of their possessions, even their homes, and many were imprisoned just for taking hold of new life in Christ.

How did these early believers respond to such awful treatment? Better than I would have. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .” (v. 34a). They found Joy in the persecution they faced. Why on earth? Because they weren’t thinking about earth. “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (34b). They were thinking about heaven and eternity. They were thinking about what Peter called, “an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

They remind me of the apostles who, after being beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I live in the US where the cost of being a Christ-follower is mild compared to the early Christians and to believers today in places where faith in Jesus is tantamount to a death sentence. We might get insulted on social media, and some factions are working through the liberal courts to shut down Christian businesses, but on the whole, being a Christian here is not a hardship. And maybe that’s the problem. But I am certain it’s coming. The cultural winds are shifting to the left and blowing in real hatred for God and His people. You and I need to be ready. It takes a firm faith and an eye to eternity to rejoice in the face of persecution. Beloved, are you willing to suffer disgrace for the Name?

Hebrews: Don’t Reject the Living God

I really didn’t want to belabor this point any longer in our study of Hebrews, but the author does, and so, then, will we. What point? The danger of rejecting God. And he’s not speaking to the lost world, he’s talking to those who have professed Christ then turned away from Him. This is not exactly a pleasant passage and I’m sure you’re tired of this topic, but it was an important message for first-century Christians and even more so for us in the twenty-first century. The number of “Christians” who are denouncing and “deconstructing” their faith is astonishing – and it’s exactly what the Bible says we can expect as the end draws near.

The writer first pointed back to the law of Moses which was a non-negotiable for God’s people. A Jew who was convicted of rejecting God’s law was subject to death without mercy. Do we think He will be any gentler with those who reject His Son? He asked, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him?” (Hebrews 10:29). They despised the grace of God in Christ and threw it out as if it was nothing more than dung. As you might imagine, that “insults [or grieves] the Spirit of grace.”

The writer then pointed to the judgment of God. His people will be received into His presence. His enemies will face judgment and wrath. Who is God’s enemy? Anyone who rejects His grace. The author said, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31). The hand of God can be a soft and gracious thing, or it can be as hard as steel – the choice is yours.  God’s grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap – it cost God His one and only Son. Please, Beloved, don’t throw it all away. Without Jesus, there’s nothing left.

You are . . .

I don’t typically study the Bible like I’m picking apples, jumping from branch to branch looking for the fruit. I prefer to work through an entire book, slowly and carefully and glean everything I can from the whole. Context is so important to understand and apply the Scriptures appropriately. Recently I studied through Colossians, and I detected a theme Paul had carefully woven throughout this epistle. It’s one you will find through most of his letters. (That’s another favorite method of Bible study – to work through all the books by a single author such as Paul, Luke, or John.) The theme I discovered is “Once you were . . . but now you are . . .” and it is one of the most encouraging words to me in Scripture.

Paul said, “Once you were”: slaves to sin, deceitful, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy, drunkards, angry, envious, wicked, fearful, filled with hate, dead in sin, lost in darkness, and most of all alienated from and enemies of God. . . This is the life you and I once lived – it was our normal, just as it is the norm for anyone without Christ. We lived for ourselves with one goal – to satisfy our flesh.

And this is what He says: “You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you” (Isaiah 43: 4). Those are His words, not mine. Who you were before Christ is not who you are in Christ. Oh, and one more thing God says about you: “You are mine” (v. 1) From His heart to yours Beloved, it’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

“But,” Paul wrote, “now you are . . .”: washed, sanctified, justified, saved, renewed, restored, pure, holy, righteous, set free, children of light, and best of all reconciled to God, accepted, adopted, and dearly loved.”  If you are in Christ, this is your new normal. This is the truth about who – and whose – you are. But maybe you don’t recognize yourself this way. Maybe you can’t shake the ugliness of your past. Maybe some people in your life keep reminding you of who you were. No doubt the devil keeps bringing up the old you. But this is where you must take God at His Word – literally. No matter what anyone, even your own confused heart, tells you – God gets the final say.

Hebrews: This May Make You Mad

According to Scripture, my job as a Bible teacher is to make you mad. My brothers will tell you I’ve been practicing for this my whole life. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). The word “spur” means “to incite, irritate, or provoke” and it comes from a root word that suggests a sharp disagreement. “But wait a minute,” you say, “I thought we were supposed to always get along and be at peace with one another.”  We are. But sometimes peace requires confrontation. The church suffers greatly because we are not willing to confront uncomfortable issues. Like what a Christian should look like. The writer pointed to two specific things: Love and good deeds. 

Jesus said that love would be the distinguishing mark of His followers (John 13:35) and you may recall that the only directive Jesus gave was when He commanded us to love one another (John 15:17). John went a step further (on someone’s toes) and said if you don’t love believers in Christ, that’s a good indication that you are not in Christ (1 John 2:9-11). Love is non-negotiable for the Christian.

We are also called to do good deeds. Paul said that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Who’s right here? Both. Salvation comes by faith in the grace of God and is evidenced by good works. No, you don’t have to go to Calcutta and join Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to prove that you are a Christian. Simple acts of love, kindness, gentleness, and compassion are good fruit in the believer’s life. Hate, harshness, rudeness, and indifference are evidence that one is not a Christ-follower. If there’s no good fruit there is no root in Christ.

Love and good deeds are the identifying marks of the Christian. If neither is present, then Christ is not present. If that makes you mad then take it up with God – He’s the one who said it first, not me. Also you might need to re-examine your relationship with Him.

The writer of wisdom said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). Sharpening iron involves rubbing it with an abrasive stone to grind the edge. Sometimes we need kind words and other times we need a gritty whetstone. I’m called to give you both. I love you too much to not tell you the whole truth, even if it makes you mad.

You’re Not too Heavy for Jesus

Joy and Nana at her 2nd birthday party

When we go somewhere that requires a lot of walking, Joy’s little legs tire very quickly.  She starts to slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when Nana picks her up and carries her.  The burden of her weight rests on me.  I love to hold her, but at almost thirty pounds, she can become a heavy load pretty quickly. I know every parent and grandparent is nodding. Those babies get heavy, and as they age, the burdens they bring shift the weight from our arms to our knees. The idea of carrying others’ burdens has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders. 

At Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it was far more than thirty pounds.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

I bear the weight of Joy because I love her.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  I’m nearing the time, though, when my granddaughter will be too big of a physical burden for me to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never outweigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved – Jesus will carry you – all the way home.